Colorful school supplies for back-to-school

Going Back to School In Style

Kids are starting to swap swimming goggles for backpacks and flip-flops for sneakers, which can only mean one thing – it’s the end of the summer and it’s time to go back to school.

There’s always a buzz of excitement among students, parents and teachers alike as shoppers flock the stores looking for the most colorful pencil cases and the coolest fall wardrobe. To cater to these preferences, we see retailers doing new and innovative things for the back-to-school season. Take a look at these consumer and retailer trends to discover what’s cool for school in 2019.

Trend #1: The Bell is Ringing for Record Back-to-School Spending

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average spending per household for back-to-school shoppers is $696.70 – the highest ever recorded. And that’s not all – the average spending per household for back-to-school college shoppers is $976.78. In total, that’s a projected $80.7B combined spending for clothing, supplies, laptops and other items for the next school year.

NRF also predicts that clothing and accessories will top K-12 families’ expenses at an average of $239.82, followed by electronics, shoes and school supplies. College shoppers plan to spend the most on electronics, followed by clothing, dorm and apartment furnishings and food items.

With a strong economy and high spending all around, retailers are prepping for an increase in sales this year, but only if they continue to innovate and keep ahead of the competition.

Trend #2: In-Store Shopping Gets an A+

Despite the growth in online shopping overall, Deloitte found that most back-to-school spending will continue to occur in-store, especially for school supplies and clothing. In fact, households plan to spend 56% of their budget in stores and 29% online, with the remaining 15% up for grabs with undecided shoppers.

With kids constantly growing and having their fair share of opinions on which notebook is their favorite, it’s no wonder that in-store shopping is still the channel of choice. Students want to be able to touch, feel and see all the options in-person. Still, Coresight Research estimates that approximately 28.3% of total US back-to-school spend will be online this year, up from 26.1% in 2018. This number will likely continue to grow as online becomes a popular channel for families looking for ways to save time and beat the back-to-school rush in an increasingly popular category.

Trend #3: Retailers Help Shoppers Beat the Back-to-School Blues

It’s always fun to see retailers come up with creative ways to make back-to-school a lot more exciting, whether through fun festivities or memorable shopping events.   

For example, Walmart is hosting events such as STEM Day of Play, with DIY fun for kids. Meijer is treating incoming college freshmen to a party that includes a DJ, photo booth and interactive contests.

Retailers are also doing what they can to give back and get the community involved. Amazon is giving customers an easy way to donate a backpack full of school supplies to a student in need with Alexa. Food City hosted a back-to-school fair which gives away backpacks and school supplies to children in need.

Going the extra mile to create these experiences and campaigns will build a positive brand association in the minds of the consumers and keep them coming back beyond the back-to-school season.

Trend #4: Focus on Social Media

Of course, we can’t forget the power of social media. Students are invested in their social platforms, and it’s a great place for retailers to build up brand recognition and keep them top-of-mind.

Let’s take a look at Macy’s, who launched a back-to-school promotion that includes shoppable commercials on Snapchat and a video-sharing challenge on TikTok. By catering to U.S. teens, Macy’s is urging mobile users to record videos and inspire others to share their style. With mobile usage set to grow to 60% of back-to-school shoppers this year, it’s a great way for the brand to interact with their audience and find creative ways to meet customers where they’re at.

These four trends highlight the evolving changes that are happening around one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year. Retailers are gearing up for back-to-school sales by meeting consumers’ changing demands and getting ahead of the competition. With dedicated studying and strong execution, innovative retailers will surely ace the test!

A Beginner’s Guide to Brand Safety

Recently, Nishma Robb, UK marketing director for Google Ads, admitted that YouTube might never be able to guarantee 100% brand safety, saying, “I don’t think that’s the reality of the platform.”

Of course, this doesn’t come as a shock. Major improvements have been made to YouTube’s algorithms, now catching 98% of extremist or violent videos. However, it only takes one video to sneak through the AI safeguards to cause a scandal.

Brand safety is a hot topic and it’s important for everyone, including agencies, brands, online publishers and technology providers. Here’s a quick beginner’s guide to answer your top brand safety questions.

What is Brand Safety?

Brand safety is what advertisers must do to ensure that its online advertisements are not placed somewhere that is viewed negatively and harms the image of the brand. For example, a Disney ad on an extremist site conflicts with the brand’s image of being the happiest place on Earth. This is a big no-no that is sure to spark the wrong type of attention.

There’s a lot of fake news and inappropriate content on the internet. That’s why it’s no surprise  brands need to be careful about where their ads land these days. Brand safety has been an issue  since online ad buying came into existence. In fact, in 2017, 90% of ad industry professionals rated brand safety as a serious concern and did something about it, taking steps to confront the issue.

Why is Brand Safety Important?

The most important reason why brand safety matters is because a brand’s reputation is indispensable. One misplaced ad that doesn’t align with the brand’s values and mission can ruin the company’s reputation. This is why advertisers and marketers must be extremely careful when determining where ads appear. Like Warren Buffet said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

A study by cybersecurity firm Cheq and IPG Mediabrands found that consumers assume every ad placement is intentional, and are 2.8 times less willing to associate with a brand when its ads are displayed in unsafe environments, a big reason why brands are feeling nervous about where their ads appear.

What Are Recent Examples of Brand Safety Scandals?

YouTube has taken center stage in the headlines announcing brand safety controversies. In 2017, ads showed up alongside racist content and terrorist group videos, causing companies like AT&T to pull their advertising. Last year, things flared up when ads from over 300 companies were placed on violent or offensive YouTube videos. A few weeks ago, big companies like Disney, Nestle, McDonald’s and AT&T pulled their ads from YouTube when their ads showed up on inappropriate videos.

However, most companies who do pull their ads from YouTube usually come back, so much so that eMarketer predicts YouTube’s US ad revenues will still grow 16% this year to $5.34 billion. The platform offers too much value for brands, allowing them to target unique specific audiences.

YouTube has also taken aggressive measures by disabling comments and reviewing and removing thousands of videos. However, despite the platform’s best efforts, it’s likely there will never be a perfect fix to ensure complete safety.

How Can I Protect My Brand From Brand-Safety Embarrassments?

Like Robb said, you can’t expect a “100% brand-safe” environment. This means advertisers will have to find ways to prepare for crisis. To protect their brand from entering risky territory, advertisers can look to use innovative technology. These tools can analyze and identify which ad placements are safe.

For example, Advertising Week says one of the easiest ways to achieve brand safety is to deploy tools built for automated pre-bid media evaluation. As well, many social platforms and tech vendors are providing technology to give advertisers more data and information on their ads. This is all while YouTube and other platforms work hard to make their space as safe as possible.

According to Digiday, agencies are increasingly looking to buy directly from premium-quality content owners on YouTube. Placing an ad is more costly and time consuming. However, brand safety is guaranteed on these channels.

Brand safety will continue to be an important topic in the advertising industry. It’ll be interesting to see the new tools and technology that come into play as advertisers demand for greater control of the content they appear in. One thing is for sure – no one wants to deal with a bad reputation.

HEB Scan-and-Go Inside Look

An Inside Look at H-E-B’s Scan-and-Go

At Ketner Group, we keep close tabs on what retailers are doing to make the checkout experience as frictionless as possible, such as the expansion of Amazon Go stores and the launch of Macy’s and Target’s scan-and-go apps. So when I heard that H-E-B, our Texas-based local grocery store, was piloting a new scan-and-go app, I knew I had to go try the technology for myself and see what the hype was all about!

Technical Difficulties

When I arrived at H-E-B, I sat in the car to download the app, expecting to easily scan and go, as the technology implies. However, I wasn’t off to a great start. I tried registering and logging in, but I kept getting the same error message over and over again. Finally, I decided to go into the store and ask for help. The store associate didn’t know what was going on, saying that it must be a server issue. I ended up leaving the store, disappointed that I couldn’t try the app out that day.

This was not a good first impression. I learned how important it is for retailers to deliver a seamless app that is easy to download and set up. Or else, it’ll leave customers even more frustrated, going against everything the app was built for. Of course, technical difficulties happen from time to time. But when they do, stores should have trained associates in place to help shoppers who are encountering problems with the app and quickly fix any issues that may occur.

Convenient and Fast

A couple of weeks later, I was in Gruene, a small city in Texas, for a friend’s bachelorette party. Before we went on a hike, we decided to stop by the nearest H-E-B to pick up a few picnic supplies for lunch. Turns out, that store was also piloting the scan-and-go app. I opened up the app and voila, I logged in successfully!

We pick out a few items for the picnic, including apples, salads and sandwiches. I used the app to scan each item’s barcode. To my surprise, the scanner was super fast! I didn’t even need to hold the phone to the barcode steadily before it read the item. Since all the items we bought had barcodes, I was able to easily scan each product and put everything into the cart.

Feeling Like a VIP

Once we were ready to check out, I walked over to H-E-B’s dedicated station for scan-and-go kiosks. All I had to do was scan the barcode on my app and it printed a receipt for me. A store associate came over as I was walking away to verify my receipt and after that, I was able to quickly leave the store.

My friends were amazed that we could skip the checkout line, and it was definitely fun testing out a concept that I often read and write about myself. I’m excited to see this technology play out as more and more shoppers use scan-and-go as their primary checkout option. There’s definitely a few hiccups and challenges that retailers should be prepared for, but I think with the proper technology and training in place, scan-and-go will help remove the primary pain point for customers. Because like we always say, no one likes waiting in long checkout lines!

Four Things to Learn from Your First Year on the Job

It’s hard to believe that I graduated from college and entered the working world more than a year ago. Starting your first job is a major turning point in life and can quite honestly be daunting. As a new graduate, there are a lot of things you discover that they just don’t teach in textbooks and the classroom. So, I’ve decided to compile a few pieces of advice I’ve gleaned this past year to help new graduates who are starting their first full-time job.

Be Confident

As a new professional, it’s easy to feel insecure about your work and ideas. You left your “mama, I made it” moment as a senior in college and now you’re back at the bottom of the totem pole again.

When you start to doubt yourself, remember that you were hired for a reason. Your company believes that you have the right skills and experiences to contribute to the team. It’s so important to take what you’ve learned all these years and not be afraid to speak up and be confident in your abilities. You’ll be surprised what you can do!

Make Mistakes and Never Stop Learning

You may think that since you’re out of school, you won’t need to learn anymore. But really, you should never stop taking opportunities to cultivate your skills and be adaptable with the industry. This could mean reading articles, keeping up with news or acquiring new skills.

You may also feel like you have to do everything perfectly the first time around, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Believe me, I’ve made plenty of mistakes on the job! But what I’ve come to find is that the mistakes will make you better, and it’s up to you to take something away from those learning pains.

Get Involved

Look around and you’ll notice that there are some incredible people to look up to and learn from. Whether it be your boss, co-worker, or any other professional in your industry, there are people willing to guide and help you if you just ask! There are also professional organizations you can join with luncheons and networking events. For PR folks, I’ve found that PRSA is a great resource with plenty of ways to connect, volunteer and meet other professionals in your area.

Do What You Love and Have Fun Doing It

Most importantly, whether you like it or not, you will spend more time at work with your co-workers than anywhere else. Take time to find out what your interests are, both in and outside of work, and hone in on those opportunities. Find a workplace that’s ideal for you. If you enjoy what you do and take time to care for the people around you, going to work every day will be fun and enjoyable. Thankfully, my team at Ketner Group has made it easy to adjust and has given me opportunities to learn and grow both professionally and personally as I’ve made my transition with a fun, taco-loving team!

So, congratulations to all the new graduates out there and remember to take a moment to breathe and enjoy this new chapter of life. Oh, and bonus advice – start saving for retirement early. I hear your 70-year-old self will thank you later!

7-Step Guide to Starting Up a Social Media Program

Social media is a key element of any marketing strategy, allowing brands to connect and engage with their audience and grow the business. Whether it’s used to generate leads, showcase new products, deliver better customer service, or manage reputation and brand image, businesses are taking advantage of the benefits of social media platforms to help generate online exposure.

Over the years, we’ve helped clients increase the visibility and impact of their ongoing social media initiatives, but we’ve recently taken on an entirely new challenge: launching a social media program from scratch.

Although creating a social media program can seem daunting at first, with the right plan of action, you can see great results in just a few months – we have! Below are some easy steps we followed to create a successful social media program for a client of ours, with helpful tips we’ve learned along the way.

Step 1. Develop Your Goals
As with any other PR campaign, it’s important to define your goals from the start so you know what success looks like. Then, work backwards to identify the steps you’ll take to achieve that goal. Aimlessly starting a social media program will result in just another content channel with limited purpose, and less impact. Carefully develop an overarching goal, and define campaign strategies and tactics that help you achieve it.

Step 2. Research, Research, Research
Research is key to understanding how to achieve those goals you just developed. There are so many great resources out there that can help you answer questions like:

  • Which channels are the best fit for my company?
  • How often should I be posting on each channel?
  • Should I use paid or organic posts?
  • What sort of content should I be focused on?
  • How do I measure success?

This is also a good time to conduct a competitor audit to understand how your competitors are doing online and what type of social content they are posting. The more you know, the more you can be confident with the decisions you make!

Step 3. Set up Your Accounts
Now that you’ve identified which networks you’ll be active on, it’s time to set up your accounts. Fill out your profiles completely with an easy-to-understand bio (no jargon!) and appealing visuals that are tailored to your audience. Also, make sure to give the appropriate people on your team access to the account so they can manage the pages, too.

 Step 4. Create a Social Media Content Calendar
Go back to your research and see what sort of content you should focus on. Channels shouldn’t be overly promotional, so balance company news and products with thought leadership articles to show that your company has a firm grasp on the impact of the latest industry news and trends.

Tip: Schedule a few posts and fill your page with content before you start following people. That way, people visiting your page don’t see an empty feed with no incentive to follow back!

Step 5. Get Relevant Followers
Start following relevant users who you think could benefit from your channel. Remember, gaining more followers isn’t always the main objective. Look back at the goals and strategies you developed in Step one and target followers that will help you achieve it. It’s also a good idea to send out an email to your employees, encouraging them to follow and engage on your platforms.

Tip: Liking relevant posts is a great way to get more people to find your channel. You can also use hashtags and tag users in your posts to get more views.

 Step 6. Evaluate Your Strategy with Regular Reviews
With so many moving parts, you can’t expect to get your social media strategy perfect the first time around. That’s why testing and evaluating your strategy on a regular basis is necessary to creating an effective campaign. Look to see if you met your short-term goals and assess what you can do to improve the program. After you’ve taken a look at what’s working and what’s not, adjust accordingly. Re-strategize and take action on what you can do to optimize your social channels.

Step 7. Consider Using Paid to Amplify Your Content
Take the value of your strongest-performing content to the next level by putting paid behind your posts. Not only do you get to set your own budget, you can also collect data on the type of people viewing and clicking on your page. If you’re being strategic and really targeting your audience for lead generation purposes, paid social can lead to results that are far beyond industry averages. For example, we’re seeing click through rates (CTR) as high as 1.739% for one of our clients on LinkedIn – way better than the industry benchmark of 0.13% – even while keeping the cost per click (CPC) under the industry benchmark! With constant analysis and tweaking of content messaging and audience targeting, these results only get more impressive.

Tip: LinkedIn allows you to upload a list or specify a segmented audience to target. It also says that the most successful campaigns target between 60,000 and 600,000 membersat a time.

If you don’t have a social media program in place yet, now is the time to start. Feel free to contact our team at Ketner Group to learn more about how we can help your business develop and manage a social media program that meets your business goals!

Meet Our New Account Coordinator: Stacy Lan

Hi everyone! My name is Stacy Lan and I’m excited to announce that I am the new Account Coordinator for Ketner Group. I recently graduated with a public relations degree from the University of Texas at Austin, which means it is time to drop my textbooks and enter real “adulthood.” This will be my first full-time job and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to learn and grow with.

Throughout college, I was lucky to have five different public relations internships. I look at each of those experiences as stepping stones to get to the place I am today. My freshmen year, I started off by learning to pitch to media through a remote internship. I then became a social media marketing intern for a startup company called Hooked. During the summer of my junior year, I was a corporate communications intern for Children’s Health in Dallas, channeling my love for writing by contributing to their daily newsletter. A year later, I interned for Weber Shandwick, a global public relations firm, working with clients ranging from consumer to technology. It was through this internship that I discovered my love for telling each client’s stories and sharing their brand in a unique and influential way. Finally, I ended my college internship career at Hahn Public Communications, where I gained more skills and experience working with clients.

So what do I enjoy besides writing news releases and pitching to media? I love to travel the world and take in whatever sounds, sights and smells (okay…maybe not all smells) that come my way. I also love taking my camera with me to capture these moments to remember. Other than traveling, I like to explore home in the great city of Austin. To me, the best part about Austin is that after you eat all the delicious tacos and barbecue, you can hike it all off at the most beautiful trails and lakes. I also volunteer in East Austin, mentoring children and teaching them bible stories with an organization called Mission: Possible!

When I met the team at Ketner Group, I could tell that each person is valued and everyone is treated like family. With a group like that, powerful storytelling and incredible results can be achieved. I’m thrilled to be a part of this team and can’t wait to see where this new chapter takes me!